Library Collections: Document: Full Text
Senate Debates On The Land-Grant Bill For Indigent Insane Persons, February 21, 1854
Dorothea Dix’s Land-Grant Bill for Indigent Insane Persons was a frequent topic of debate in Congress between 1848 and 1854. Here a proponent of the bill and major ally of Dix, Senator Solomon Foot of Vermont, outlines his argument for passage of the bill. Foot, an antislavery Republican, was in the Senate until his death in 1866. Foot maintains that care for the indigent insane is an especially appropriate use for the federal lands.
On motion by Mr. FOOT, the Senate proceeded to consider the bill making a grant of public lands to the several States and Territories of the Union, for the benefit of indigent insane persons.
Mr. FOOT. Mr. President, the Committee of Public Lands reported an amendment to this bill, in the form of a substitute for the original bill, which was introduced by myself, and referred to that committee; and to that amendment or substitute there is now pending an amendment offered by the Senator from Indiana, -Mr. PETTIT- who is not now in his seat.
Mr. President, this bill, with but a light modification, has been pending before Congress for the last five or six years, and has passed each House by decisive majorities at different terms, though unfortunately not at the same term in concurrence. The object of the bill and its provisions are doubtless well understood by most, if not all the members of the Senate. It has been very fully and carefully considered by your Committee on Public Lands, and we think it well guarded in all its provisions. It can hardly be deemed necessary, therefore, to enter upon any extended discussion at this time, with a view to enforce its claim upon the favorable consideration of the Senate.
By the last census, it appears there are over thirty thousand persons in the United States laboring under the most fearful and terrible of all inflictions, mental alienation or insanity; a very large proportion of whom are in circumstances of indigence and want, destitute alike of the ordinary physical comforts of life, and of that remedial care and treatment which are afforded only at well endowed hospitals, devoted exclusively to that purpose, and which all observation and experience show to be indispensable to their restoration.
The amelioration of the condition of this large and increasing class of our citizens, suffering under the most direful calamity which can befall a human being; to restore them, so far as it may be done, to reason, to usefulness, and to happiness, is no secondary object of public interest, or of national concern. The subject is one which appeals not to our sympathies only, but it addresses itself emphatically to our regard as legislators for the public weal. It seems hardly possible to conceive of any other, or more practicable mode, than the measure proposed by this bill, by which the Federal Government, not transcending its constitutional powers, can more effectually contribute to the accomplishment of this most beneficent, and most desirable object.
The bill proposes a grant of ten millions of acres from your immense public domain for this object, to be apportioned among all the States, new and old, according to a prescribed and equitable ratio, in sections and parts of section, after it shall have been surveyed. In the States in which there are been survey of the value of $1 25 per acre are to have their distributive shares selected from such lands. The States in which there are no public lands of that value are to receive the amount of their distributive shares in acres in land scrip, to be sold by the States at a price not less than one dollar per acre. No State to which scrip is to be issued is authorized to locate it in any other State or Territory; but their assignees may locate their scrip upon any of the unappropriated lands of the United States which shall then be subject to private entry at $1 25 per acre.
This provision will prevent the location of this scrip upon any of the public lands along the lines whose minimum value any price above fixed at the duplicate price, or at $1 25 per acre. The expenses of these proceedings are to be borne by the several States respectively. The moneys realized from the sale of the lands and from the sale of the scrip are to be invested in the United States stocks, or other stocks yielding not less than five per cent. upon their par value; and this is to constitute a perpetual fund, the interest of which shall be applied to making provision for, and to the support and maintenance of the indigent insane in some public hospital or institution devoted exclusively to their care and treatment, and having full corps of officers, physicians, and attendants attached to them. The previous assent of the States to the grant, with all its provisions and conditions, is to be signified by legislative enactments, if any portion of the fund shall be lost, or if it shall become diminished from any accident or cause whatever, the State must make up such loss or diminution, and keep the fund entire and inviolable.
These are the principal features of the bill. The object is a good one. It is, indeed, an object of growing and national importance. The measure proposed by the bill is not circumscribed, nor local, nor partial in its operation, like very many of your grants; but, on the contrary, it is general and equitable, and as universal in its operation and influence as the miseries it proposes to relieve, it passes clear of all the objections to merely local and partial grants. It comes clearly within the limits of your constitutional power upon general principles, and has the authority of precedents almost without number. Indeed, the precedents, many of them, go far beyond this proposition, and, which, from their local and partial character, were obnoxious to objections of which this case stands clear. Objects of humanity and charity, both at home and abroad, have not unfrequently claimed the attention and consideration of Congress, and have shared the bounty of the Federal Government in different forms. Without stopping to comment upon them, I beg leave to call the attention of the Senate to several acts in which the principle and the power we ask to be exercised and applied in this case have been fully recognized by Congress.